clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Future Sixers: Why Isn’t Josh Hart Getting More Draft Love?

New, comments
NCAA Basketball: Temple at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Around this time last year, Buddy Hield’s star had risen as the frontrunner for college basketball’s National Player of the Year. By December 15, he was averaging 22 points per game on 6 3-point attempts per game, and was hitting his 3’s at an astonishing 50% rate. By late January, he had played himself into lottery pick consideration (DraftExpress put him 17th on January 26), and by mid-February, he was fully entrenched in the lottery, consistently seen as a Top 10 pick. In June, Hield’s whirlwind senior season culminated with a Top 10 selection, as the New Orleans Pelicans took him with the 6th overall pick.

One year later, another 6’5 wing has cemented himself as the frontrunner for this year’s NPoY award. Just like Hield, he has done it on the back of unreasonably efficient scoring, and just like Hield, he has seen his team ascend the weekly rankings after an impressive, undefeated start to the season.

No one seems to be talking about Josh Hart’s NBA future, though.

It’s remarkable that Hart has managed to generate so little buzz this season. At the time of writing, ESPN had ranked him 58th in their Top 100 (Insider), while DraftExpress placed him 44th. While producing like the best player in college basketball in no way ensures a player should be considered a surefire NBA player (Hello, Adam Morrison!) or even a quality NBA prospect (Hello, Jimmer Fredette!), it’s strange that it hasn’t engendered more discussion around Hart, given his status as a borderline prospect last year.

Even stranger, Hart’s first 11 games have him on pace to put together one of the most well-rounded seasons for a college wing player in recent memory.

Hart’s statistical profile is one with nearly no weaknesses. It shows him as a player who creates for his teammates, creates for himself, sustains a high usage, maintains a low turnover rate, shoots efficiently from both the line and the field, and who competes on the defensive end of the ball. This jives with the eye test, as Hart has served as Villanova’s backup point guard and has easily been the Wildcats’ best offensive initiator this year. (Allow me to insert the caveat here that Hart is likely to regress in a few ways— his 68% TS seems unsustainable, and his 3-point shooting is almost guaranteed to drift further towards his career averages in the mid-30’s than it is to sustain in the mid-40’s.)

More encouraging than his stats this year, though, has been the natural progression he has followed to reach this point. “Josh Hart: Elite Collegiate Playmaker” isn’t an aberration that can be chalked up to a few months of ridiculous shotmaking. In fact, that was exactly what was so worrisome about Hield’s year at Oklahoma last year-- Hield had put up efficiency numbers that had ranged from terrible (46.7% true shooting as a freshman) to below average (56.8% TS as a sophomore), and back to very bad (54.5% TS as a junior) before exploding onto the scene last year with a 66.5% TS. In the process, he developed no additional skills outside of scoring; his assist rate actually fell relative to his usage in every season.

In addition, Hield provided no value on the defensive end— he had below average steal and block rates for a wing, his DBPM placed him in the 15th percentile of all wings, and Oklahoma performed 2.5 points per 100 possessions better with Hield off the floor on defense. Hield was also a poor rebounder, bringing no value to his team there.

This is not to pile on Hield, who has had a rough enough rookie campaign as is, but to contrast his supernova senior year with Hart’s.

Where Hield showed consistently poor scoring efficiency prior to his senior year, Hart’s has been consistently outstanding— his worst TS% to date has been his 60.2% as a junior, which still places him in the top quartile of wing efficiency. As Hart’s role on offense has expanded, too, he has learned to look for his teammates more. After a year’s adjustment to each role at Villanova, he has improved his assist rate the following season.

Moreover, Hart has been elite at limiting his turnovers every year. Through three seasons and a quarter of a fourth, he has never averaged more than 3.1 turnovers per 100 possessions, a rate just shy of the 75th percentile. His current TO rate of 2.4/100 places him above the 90th percentile of wing prospects since 2010, including low usage shooters with little creation responsibility.

So Hart isn’t a one-season, breakout wonder that scouts should be wary of, as he produced in younger seasons. Additionally, he can score in a variety of ways— off the dribble, as a spot-up shooter, or at the free throw line.

For someone with presumed below-average athleticism, he has been remarkably effective getting to the rim this season. Hoop-Math shows Hart as having made 10 unassisted FG’s at the rim in the halfcourt this season, which translates to approximately 1.2 made field goals per 40 minutes of play (prior to his Tuesday game against Temple). This is an elite mark for a wing, and is due to his decision making and ability to read the floor.

He has demonstrated himself to be more than capable operating in the pick and roll against college defenses, understanding how to use it and when to attack. Here, he sees the slow-footed Caleb Swanigan standing in his way, he knows he can get around him and finish over him.

This time, he sees Vince Edwards anticipating the screen, so he rejects it and jets around both Edwards and Swanigan for an easy finish at the rim.

But Hart can also get to the rim without a screen. Here, he uses the threat of his 3-point shot, where he has shot 39.1% over his 4-year career, to drive by Edwards.

He challenges the 7’2 Isaac Haas at the rim, going directly into the shot blocker’s body, forcing a foul, and converting the shot anyway. In all four years at Villanova, he has had an average to above average free throw rate, and his career FTr of .402 places him squarely above average at the 60th percentile of wing players.

Hart’s utility in the pick and roll extends beyond his driving ability. He doesn’t have much of a mid-range game, as he shoots only 38% on his 2-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math. However, his vision allows him to pick out the roll men through double teams, or to kick out to an open shooter if the defense covers both PnR options.

Neither of these plays are brilliant, league altering plays, but they’re the correct read, and they speak to Hart’s strength as a decision maker— he doesn’t try to force plays that aren’t available, either as a ballhandler or as a passer. He’s smart about reading what the defense is giving him and taking it, rather than trying to force the defense to give him what he wants.

The first clip, especially, demonstrates that ability. After rejecting Eric Paschall’s initial screen, he can’t beat Matt Farrell off the bounce. So he simply resets, accepts a screen going the other direction, and finds Paschall for an easy 2-point conversion as the two Notre Dame defenders attempt to trap him. It’s not a flashy play, but it’s worth the same amount as any other 2-point bucket.

Hart also has a nascent post-up game that he has leaned on more than your typical college 2-guard. He’s not a bully wing who will beat up on anyone you guard him with, but if he gets a smaller player on his back with good position in the post, he knows how to take advantage.

Defensively, he fits the same mold of a solidly positive, if unspectacular contributor. At 6’5 with a 6’8 wingspan and at a sturdy 215 pounds, he compares favorably to most NBA 2-guards, displaying a similar build to Wesley Matthews (hold this comparison, we’re going to come back to it). That’s a physical profile that will enable Hart to check 1’s, 2’s, and most 3’s, although he’ll undoubtedly struggle against the biggest wing forwards against whom nearly all defenders do.

Hart’s defensive numbers have improved each year, as he has gone from a below average defender without whom Villanova played better, to an obvious plus defender, with whom the Wildcats have been 2.0 points per 100 possessions better on defense this season. He gets skinny over screens and communicates well within Villanova’s switch-heavy scheme. He has no problem bodying up bigger players in the post or staying in front of lead guards in the pick and roll.

Watch this defensive possession against Notre Dame last weekend:

He gets around Geben’s off-ball screen, remaining attached to VJ Beachem. But Villanova’s center, Darryl Reynolds switched on Beachem, activating a switch for Hart. He recognizes this need immediately, and provides good resistance in the post, with a 34 front that pushes Geben away from the block. When the Notre Dame big catches the ball, he’s too far from the hoop to turn and shoot, and he travels when forced to make a move on Hart by Jalen Brunson digging down on the double team.

Here, too, Hart switches onto a bigger man in the post and forces a turnover.

When defending at the point of attack, he moves his feet solidly and chooses beneficial angles to cut off the drive or catch up after a screen. His head is on a swivel off-ball, ensuring he rarely gets beat backdoor or loses his man weakside.

He’s there to contest the shot as Farrell gets to the hoop, reads the switch during Reynolds’ contest, and boxes out Colson to finish the play. Just a very solid defensive possession.

This was the play I thought was most impressive for Hart on the defensive end against the Fighting Irish.

He navigates the screen successfully twice within a short period of time, but switches onto Bonzie Colson after Paschall steps in front of Vasturia. Then, guarding Colson in the post, he forces him out to the foul line, where his 34 front forces a steal and creates a transition basket.

That’s about the most you can expect with Hart on defense. He’s capable of sliding in space, of remaining alert and preventing easy backdoor opportunities, and he’s strong enough to bang with unskilled bigs who can’t simply turn and shoot over him. And he has shown himself to be an above average rebounder in all four years at Villanova. There’s a lot to like there.

But he is not a lockdown defender who will shut down opposing teams’ All-Star wing creators. His athletic deficiencies are evident in his block rate, which has been relatively low all four years of school, and his steal rate, which is solid, but not outstanding. While the steal in the play above was impressive, it was more anomaly than standard for Hart.

And therein lies the rub: Hart is a particularly well-rounded player who can help teams in a number of different ways, but whose weaknesses are pronounced enough to prevent realistic All-Star potential. While Hart was useful as an underclassmen with Villanova, he played in a low usage role that allowed him to paper over his weaknesses and work on improving his strengths. A most-probable outcome for Hart is as a 3&D wing who provides some tertiary playmaking ability and solid perimeter defense.

Which brings us back to Wesley Matthews. Matthews is the prototype for the type of guard Hart could develop into. A knockdown spot-up shooter who bullied smaller guards in the post but ceded playmaking duties to a stronger initiator fits Hart’s profile pretty well. And on defense, peak-Matthews was undoubtedly a positive contributor, although Nicolas Batum shouldered the responsibility of guarding opposing teams’ best wing player.

Still, Wesley Matthews is a great outcome for draft picks, when considering how rarely they pan out to be truly productive players. There’s a real argument to be made that Matthews has enjoyed the 5th or 6th most productive career of his 2009 draft class, and an even stronger one to be made that he was a Top 10 player in a very strong class. If Hart has a good probability of becoming a player like Matthews, and Matthews has Top 10 value in a typical draft class, then it stands to reason that Hart should be receiving lottery consideration, even in a class with as many strengths as this one.

Two-way wings who take nothing off the table while bringing some key strengths are rare. If Hart can be that type of player, he deserves some more draft hype. Buddy Hield moved up a lot of boards in late December of last year. Perhaps Hart will duplicate that feat this year while actually deserving the plaudits.

Future Sixers Point Guard Power Rankings:

Nerlens’ flattop is gone. The crown jewel of all Sixers’ hairstyles has been replaced by a pair of french braids Pippi Longstocking would scoff at. The Sixers need some help in the hair department, and in a big way. Here’s who will help get the Sixers’ hair game back on “fleek.” My wife stepped into the writing chair this week to hand out the grades on these PG’s. You have a problem with the order? Take it up with the boss.

1. Dennis Smith, NC State

Getting the top spot this week is Dennis Smith. This person clearly cares about what the top of his head looks like. It’s really polished but also has a little something fun going on. 10/10, he should leave his hair like this forever.

2. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky

Coming in a VERY close second is De’Aaron Fox. Look at those locks! You can’t give that look any less than second place. He’s getting like a 9.9/10 from me. I don’t know why. These are just my personal (totally qualified) opinions.

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA

4. Markelle Fultz, Washington

5. Short-Hair Lonzo, UCLA

Now here’s where things get sticky. I think in the number 3 spot, I would have to put Lonzo Ball BUT ONLY WITH THE LONGER HAIR. With his hair short he looks like a bb, and with Fultz having sort of a similar style to Ball’s short hair, but with WAYYY more Swagu™, it’s hard to say which guy overall would get the 3 or 4 spot. Can I give Lonzo 3, Fultz 4, and Short-Hair Lonzo 5? I’m a rule breaker, sorry.

(Editor’s note: I REJECT Kate’s assertion that Fultz’s hair is a similar style to Ball’s short hair. Fultz rocks a flat top, Ball just has a short crop! But I do agree with the overall ranking, and DEFINITELY Kate’s assessment of my man’s Swagu™.)

6. Frank Ntilikina, Strasbourg

Next we have Frank — at least his hair is a little more interesting compared to the guys coming up. So he takes Number 6.

7. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State

8. Edmond Sumner, Xavier

Now we have two guys with basically the same cut on different shaped heads. I feel like I’m essentially just judging their head shape, which isn’t up to them. I will probably have to give Evans the second-to-last spot to just because he has a little more volume going on. And then last place would be Sumner (even though he’s super cute and his haircut looks good on him. It’s just not interesting enough).

So there you have it. The definitive “Who-Sheared-It Best?” Future Sixers Point Guard Power Rankings. If you ask me, it’s totally work picking up Smith just for his haircut.

What to Watch This Weekend:

Arizona (19) vs. Texas A&M, 12:00pm, December 17, ESPN2
This should be a really interesting matchup between AU’s sweet shooting stud, Markkanen, and A&M’s length monster, Robert Williams. On the wings, borderline prospects Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons will be matched up against the facilitating DJ Hogg.
Players to Watch: Markkanen, Alkins, Simmons (Arizona), Williams, Hogg (Texas A&M)

UCLA (2) vs. Ohio State, 3:00pm, December 17, CBS
Every UCLA game is must-watch TV right now, as they’re the most exciting team in college hoops. Ohio State is in a bit of a down cycle, but Thad Matta’s crew always brings it. Should be a fun one.
Players to Watch: Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Aaron Holiday (UCLA), Keita Bates-Diop (Ohio State)

Kentucky (6) vs. North Carolina (7), 5:45 pm, Dcember 17, CBS
The premier game of the weekend, Kentucky’s bevy of high-level athletes will go against an experienced Carolina team that is still one of the best in the nation after losing Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson from last year’s national runners-up. Joel Berry against the UK backcourt and Bam Adebayo matched up against the UNC trees should be a lot of fun. Justin Jackson might be the ex-factor on the wing, as Kentucky has no mid-sized wing players who obviously match-up with him.
Players to Watch: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Wenyen Gabriel, Bam Adebayo (UK), Joel Berry, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Justin Jackson (UNC)